Thursday, October 6, 2011


I have a confession to make.  I've been casting admiring glances, trolling for "dates" on Craigslist, and I've been coveting another's property.    In short, I've been looking for a touring bike all summer on Clist and in various vintage venues (say that three times fast).  I even talked the Scientist into driving me all the way out to Dudley MA for the swap in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough.

I went so far as to dig out the bike my Dad bought me in high school,  on which I have ridden many miles, mostly in the rolling hills of the Ozarks,  but also in the steep hills of Salt Lake City,  and the flatlands of Houston and Boston.
Old Skool
 It's a Trek 420 from1989.  A completely decent "sport tourer".  It's a featherweight compared to Gilbert,  or any of my other bikes.  After striking out so many times (a near miss of a Miyata 610 in my size was particularly heartbreaking), I thought that maybe I could fit out the Trek to be a touring bike,  because The Scientist and I have dreamed about doing some long rides, and even maybe some multi- day touring.   While I've successfully ridden Gilbert 70 miles in a day,  I don't think that that's really a solution.

The last time I rode the Trek was in 2008, which I remember all too well because I was right hooked.
It was the only time I've had an accident in four years of daily commuting. Robert was in the shop, so I rode the Trek.  I was filtering up, and someone in the slow moving queue suddenly turned right.   I managed to stop/ swerve/ push off their quarterpanel,  and was only scraped up by falling,  but it was scary, and I was convinced that if I'd been riding an upright bike it wouldn't have happened.  It wouldn't have happened if I weren't filtering either, and it's one of the reasons that I generally don't anymore.

So I thought maybe I could make it into a touring bike.  I have it, it basically fits (maybe a touch small) and it's a decent frame and a perfectly fine set of Shimano components (Biopace!!).  Additionally I was having a stressful summer and decided that strenuous exercise was a better solution to stress than Ben and Jerry's  Despite years of neglect,  all I had to do was pump up the (Specialized Armadillo) tires,  remove the misguided clipless pedals *, and re-install the original toe-clip pedals that were still lingering in my bike parts bin. (moral of the story-never throw ANYTHING away)

* there's a whole post about how terrible an idea the clipless pedals were...I also raised the stem to the "max" line.
Gilbert looks on in horor, as I excavate the Trek from the depths of the bike shed

Why yes,  that is the legendary  "flickstand"

I took a couple of 10 mile rides, mostly alone, but a couple with the Scientist.  And,  well, I'm not sure it's worth the effort of conversion.   Compared to Gilbert, the Trek was so squirrely- feeling like it will turn on a dime,  when all I want to do is cruise effortlessly along.   It probably doesn't help that while I feel comfortable going fast on it,  I'm very tentative when going slow, which unfortunately, makes me slow even further, when perhaps I should speed up for greater stability.  (I have this problem skiing too).  It's a lot of fun to really go fast,  and with legs honed by pushing 45 lbs of bike around an hour every day for years,  I could easily keep up with the longer legged Scientist.  I even tried drafting for the first time,  which was a bit too much for my fledgling confidence.
The downside of no chain case
 I was comfortable for the long and mostly deserted straightaways along the lightly trafficked river roads in Watertown,  but once I ended up in traffic either in Cambridge or in Waltham, I found myself tensing up, worrying I would lose control and be hit by a car,  or when on the path, worrying I would hit a pedestrian, feeling like I had to contort my body just to see where I was going.  Gilbert may or may not be perfectly adjusted for my body,  but after so many rides,  I've adapted to him, and feel like the bike is an extension of me.  I don't have to think about turning, I just lean and shift and I'm turned.  I feel like I have to think (worry) too much on the Trek.

Turning veeeerrrrry carefully.
I rode a Clist Shogun 400 and despite somewhat crappy components, and a way overblown price,  it felt a lot more comfortable than the Trek.  Maybe not quite as "go fast"  but a lot more like a bike you could ride one handed for a minute without crashing.  My coworker P-  who has done a lot of Clist finding and seeking,  says that winter is the best time to find bargains,  so I'll just keep looking and hoping for the right bike to come along.


  1. I have an '84 Trek 460 that I absolutely love. It is similar to yours. Don't give up on your Trek. I even treated mine to a Cyclart paint job that cost more than the bike did new...
    You do look very uncomfortable on it, but it seems more like you need to play with your fit and just put some non-traffic miles on it while you get used to it. Try pushing the seat farther back on the rails, Gilbert has a fairly slack seat angle, that helps him feel stable. I can ride my trek for ages no handed. It is just what you are used to... Oh, and mine was crazy out of alignment when it went for paint, maybe yours is too.

  2. OMG, an OWL? In fairness, I used to work with an Owl who somehow migrated to Southern California and he was a class act, entirely different than the Aggies. Not that the Aggies were, well, never mind.

  3. This post rigs so very true. I searched CL this spring for a touring bike, ended up settling for a old Univega mountain bike with very long chainstays, hoping to build it up as a poor-man's long haul trucker. Alas, it ended up being a not quite so poor mans bike; but still much cheaper than a new LHT. My parents also donated a pair of my old quill style pedals to Goodwill a week before I visited them last year; they had been in their garage for 20 years.
    Like Anon at 12:21 wrote, don't give up on your old trek, unless gearing/chainstay length is an issue. Every year, when I first jump on my roadbike after months of riding my upright commuter, the roadbike feels rather uncomfortable, but after a few rides it feels alright.

  4. couple of things -- a) there's a nice old Trek light tourer locked up outside of Espresso Love this morning. Lugged construction, Huret shifters, front and rear racks. Might be worth detouring up to Sultan's or State Street Subs on the lunch break ;)

    b) I always feel little out of sorts when switching from one bike style to the other, especially if weeks or months pass where I'll be riding either the Raleigh or the ANT or dalliancing with something else. Always takes a bit of time to calibrate our balance for different postures -- though given the fact that you've done a couple of 10 mile rides, there's probably something else going on besides unfamiliarity. Hope the rest of your search goes well.

  5. I second, or is it third, that, don't give up on an otherwise good bike that fits. If the squirly feeling is the biggest concern, consider getting more weight on the front wheel, which tends to dampen the steering. A handlebar bag or a longer stem would help. Also wider, low pressure tires would help, though that might be best done with a 650b conversion, which might not be your proffered course of action. A long stem might help a more upright touring posture. I imagine Somervillain would have some further recommendations...

  6. You never know when the right bike will come along on C-List. I bought a mid-80s Trek 400 last spring thinking I wanted a go-fast road/touring bike. My issues with the bike were complicated, so I'm not sure it was only the geometry that was the problem, but by the end of August I was done trying to ride more than 20 miles on it at a time. It just wasn't fun for me. I was confident on it, but it never felt right. So, I pulled out my old Raleigh Marathon mixte and was re-considering it as a touring bike - I've ridden 50 miles on it comfortably before, though it's quite heavy.

    Then I hit the jackpot on C-List - a mid-80s Raleigh Touring bike (A Kodiak) in great condition and decent components. I felt like I won the lottery. Long chainstays and little-to no-toe overlap are blissful. Also, it's very forgiving when I'm tired and find myself riding over potholes - holds the line very well. If I hadn't found the Kodiak, I would have done what I could to make the Trek as comfortable as possible for now. You may find you adapt to the Trek after riding some more, or you may not. If not, I agree that you should keep looking!